No Justice: On a Roll
(Oct 2007) While recently driving past the Stillwater city limits sign, a song by one of this town’s most beloved local Red Dirt bands, No Justice, came on the radio. It was their latest single, “Never Come Back,” and it seemed like an appropriate way to start off the day. In fact, it would prove to be the very song they’d kick off their show with later in the evening.
Coincidence? I think not. Sure, they are one of the bands playing a set on the third and final night of the 16th annual Tumbleweed Calf Fry on Stillwater’s outskirts, but also, folks around this corner of the Sooner State simply love No Justice. When this Texas Music Times reporter pulled up to the former rodeo grounds now used to hold outdoor concerts, workers were setting up band equipment, checking lights and keeping things in tip-top shape. This was the day, the TMT was given full access to the band that is catching the attention of those who follow and love the Texas/Red Dirt music scene.
Of course some of the other artists performing that night have been around longer and have achieved a certain level of success, as evidenced by the tour buses parked near the stage belonging to Kevin Fowler and Jason Boland respectively. No Justice hasn’t quite reached the tour bus level yet; they still tour in a van (which was in the shop this particular weekend) which pulls an equipment trailer festooned with the red and white “No Justice” logo on either side.
“We’ve definitely been touring a lot more,” said lead singer Steve Rice. However, there was a noticeable a feeling of optimism in the air, this being the weekend before the band was to record their first live album at Billy Bob’s Texas down in Fort Worth. In fact, a few hours earlier they’d been in the midst of a photo shoot in Stillwater in preparation for new promo pictures.
“Things have been going great,” said guitarist-vocalist Brandon Jackson. “We’re excited about wherever this is going.” Jackson, who’s been with the band for over two years, is often right up front with Rice, moving around, playing to the crowd and looking as though he loves every minute of it. Jackson said he admires each member of the band and they get along well.
“We’re all definitely good friends,” he said. “We’re like brothers sometimes. We’re around each other so much.” Well, at this particular moment, the band was traveling back and forth from their trailer to the stage and back, hauling their own equipment.
While critics and fans are quick to tag No Justice as Red Dirt, when the guys are asked to classify their style of music, they roll their eyes or just laugh. Rice likes to describe it as “a rock and country mix” or “rock music with country lyrics.” Regardless, few bands on the Oklahoma scene rile up a crowd more than Stillwater’s No Justice.
And while No Justice is just beginning to get a real toehold in the Texas/Red Dirt music scene, largely due to the success of their second, self-titled album, they are still friendly, accessible, and loved by many fans of Texas/Red Dirt music. Jerry Payne, one of the band’s original founders and guitarist, tends to be a pretty quiet guy when he isn’t talking about music. This native of Okeene is proud of Stillwater and the fact that he and his band have achieved this level of regional success both in record sales and concert tickets sold. Payne admits to being a little nervous about the upcoming Billy Bob’s gig, but is excited about it at the same time. Undoubtedly, he’ll blow them away with his smokin’ guitar solos.
After talking about the Billy Bob’s gig and a few guitarists, Payne chatted with some lighting guys about the night’s show. It’s a friendly conversation. Later, Payne advised in a low voice, “Do whatever you can for sound guys and lighting guys. If you treat ‘em right, they’ll come through for you every time.”
In fact, Payne knows how to treat people well. Over the course of the afternoon, between sound check and the start of the show, Payne, along with road manager Patrick Jantzen, took this reporter on a tour of Stillwater’s famed Strip, which included stops at Willie’s, where OSU student Garth Brooks got his start and of course to the internationally-known Eskimo Joe’s, where drinks and food are never in short supply.
Drummer Armando Lopez, who took over after the release of Far From Everything, the band’s 2003 debut, is a native of Oklahoma City. He graduated from Northwest Classen High School, the same school that Vince Gill and Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips graduated from. Lopez is an affable guy. A self-taught drummer who started out on z informed me that he used to play with a Christian rock band called Aranda (“Kind of a Maroon 5-type band”). Well, Oklahoma’s circle of country, pop, and rock drummers isn’t huge and Lopez knew J.J. Lester, the drummer for The Great Divide and the session drummer on No Justice’s debut album.
“I was told (No Justice) needed a full-time drummer,” Lopez said. Open to the idea, Lopez received a copy of Far From Everything, and while he didn’t like it all that much, he did take to the anthemic hit “The Toast.”
“I actually loved that song,” Lopez said with his characteristic smile. He eventually met the band and soon found that No Justice embraced creativity. Lopez said he felt free to try new things and before long was the backbone of this burgeoning Red Dirt band, spending a mere eight hours to record the drum tracks for No Justice, which was released in early 2006.
Standing on the stage, Lopez proceeded to set up a few portions of his Pearl drum kit, which includes an autographed Zildjian ride cymbal signed by Journey drummer Steve Smith. “He actually saw me play,” Lopez said proudly, recalling a studio session where Smith was present. “He’s a legend.”
While No Justice doesn’t normally have a touring keyboardist, on the April leg of their spring tour, studio and touring keyboardist Donnie Record was able to add his talents to their sound, largely in preparation for their upcoming live recording. Record, a native of Enid, and Payne have known each other for 15 years and the keyboardist has proven that he is always happy to sit in and help the guys out when he can. Interestingly, Record said he played and toured with the late Michael Hedges, a fellow Enid native and well-respected New Age guitarist on the Windham Hill label. Record shared a couple Hedges stories from the old days and remembered the time the two were in the studio with David Crosby. “I remember him saying to me, ‘You’ve got some pretty good (expletive),” Record said, indicating it was a high compliment from the former Byrd.
And for those wondering who is currently on bass, Tulsa-area bass-playing veteran Joey Trevino has been playing with the guys since Payne’s brother Tony left the group last fall.
That night, their sound was right on. They were tight and clearly having a blast. At one point, Rice belted out to the crowd, “How’s Calf Fry treatin’ you this year?” The crowd responded with a roar of applause. “Me too,” Rice replied with a smile.
As for “Red Dress,” their biggest hit off the new album, Rice said the mid-tempo, melancholy rock ballad reminds him of Stillwater. This comment elicited thunderous applause from the hometown crowd. And while their originals, like “Circles” and “Bend But Don’t Break” receive a lot of attention, their covers, like The Refreshments’ “Banditos,” and U2’s “With Or Without You” also get the crowd riled up in a very good way.
So, there you have it. A somewhat typical day with an up-and-coming Oklahoma-based Red Dirt band that is receiving some solid exposure on the radio and on the dancehall and converted rodeo arena circuit, does a home state proud. Be sure to catch them the next time they come to your town. For more information, go to www.nojustice.com or visit them at www.myspace.com/nojusticeband.
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